The Pleasure Master
A standalone novel
A very special man is now available.
The Pleasure Master. A man who knows the secrets of a woman’s body, who can bring her sensual joy and fulfill her deepest sexual fantasies. Is there a woman alive who wouldn’t want to meet him?
Check New York hairdresser Kathy Bartlett off your list. She has enough problems with a rotten ex-husband and a car that’s stranded her. Men and cars. Both overheat at the wrong time. She needs a vacation somewhere warm and peaceful, with only subservient males.
Whoever is in charge of wish fulfillment doesn’t listen well, because Kathy is suddenly flung back to 1542 Scotland. It’s cold, definitely not peaceful, with nary a subservient male in sight. There’s only Ian Ross, the Pleasure Master.
Ian’s brothers demand that he prove his sexual power by seducing a woman no other man can seduce. Who better than Kathy? She has nothing but contempt for Ian Ross, and as Ian’s brothers have discovered, any attempt to woo the lass could put a man’s most precious body parts in grievous danger.
Ian accepts the challenge, confident he can seduce any woman, then leave her with his emotions untouched. Kathy remains determined to resist the explosive attraction she feels for Ian. Love won’t be denied, but time is an impatient enemy.
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The Pleasure Master
Men. Cars. Great form, no function, and they both overheated at the wrong time. Who needed them?
Kathy Bartlett glanced in her rearview mirror hoping to spot her hero of the moment, Rod’s Reliable Tow Service. Nothing.
Okay, so she’d lied. She needed her car, but she needed it functional.
“Speaking of function…” She glanced at the shiny hourglass-shaped toy perched happily on the seat beside her. “What the heck do you do?” She picked up the toy, turned it over, tapped the amber lights on top of its head, then plunked it back onto the seat.
“The strong silent type, huh? Hate to break this to you, but young America likes toys that do something. Loudly. That’s why you were left on the shelf, kiddo.” She stared out her sleet-blurred windshield at passing New York traffic. Great Christmas Eve. “You know, you sort of remind me of my ex-husband, Peter Matthew Stone. Looks hot, does squat. A major PMS moment in my life. Mind if I call you Peter?”
The toy was cool with that.
“What did I do to deserve this, Peter? I’m an okay person. I make women’s hair safe for America. When Alice asked me to pick up some toys for the shelter, I said sure. I didn’t hire a hit man to knock off old PMS because he’s suing me for mental anguish. And I never once laughed when he called a certain body part his love gun. So why is this happening to me?”
Peter hadn’t a clue.
“This is all your fault, Peter.”
Peter didn’t think so.
“I get out of work late then run to a few stores looking for toys. You know what’s left on Christmas Eve? Rejects. No offense.”
Peter handled it.
“Now I’m stuck on the side of the road with a sack of slightly weird toys in my trunk and one beside me. Fine. So I’m a pushover. I bought you because you were just sitting on the shelf. Admit it though, you were feeling kind of lonely all by yourself. Hey, I understand what it’s like on the shelf. Besides, no one should be alone on Christmas.”
Kathy cast another look in her mirror, then sighed with relief when she saw the tow truck edging toward her out of the darkness on the shoulder of the highway.
She took a deep breath and opened the door. Sleet and frigid air hit her in the face. Yech. Shoving her cell phone into her purse, she grabbed her backpack full of hair supplies, climbed out, then went to retrieve her bag of toys from the trunk. Maybe she could convince the driver to swing past the shelter. She’d hate to think of kids without toys on Christmas morning.
Darn, she’d forgotten Peter. She’d just shove his two feet of shiny nothing into the sack with the other toys. Pulling open the passenger door, she watched blankly as he tumbled out of the car and landed on his face. At least she guessed it was his face. Sort of hard to tell.
Amazed, she stared at him. “Gee, look what shook loose. You’re now the proud owner of three sturdy legs.” Sighing, she picked him up and set him next to her. “You’ll make someone a great bedside table, pal, but you won’t fit in the bag with those legs sticking out.”
Staring into the darkness, she hunched her shoulders and tried to stop shivering. Damn, damn, and double damn.
“I hate this. I need a vacation, Peter. Somewhere warm, peaceful, with every modern convenience at my fingertips, and no stress. And I may as well throw in a man. Yeah, a man who’ll do everything I want, never argue, and won’t ever tell me to relax and enjoy it.”
A gust of wind blew sleet into her face.
“That’s it, Peter. I want warm, peaceful, conveniences, and a subservient man. How’s that sound?”
Peter must’ve thought it sounded pretty good, because his amber lights flashed, and he rose to his full height, which wasn’t too spectacular.
A sudden wave of dizziness drove away all thoughts of Peter. A kaleidoscope of whirling colors made her slightly nauseated. She couldn’t be freezing to death, because she could still feel her toes.
Please, don’t let me pass out. She couldn’t let Mrs. Tierney down tomorrow. The ninety-year-old woman would be waiting for her monthly cut, knock-em-dead blond coloring, and latest issue of Cosmo. Mrs. Tierney’s cheapskate nephew had stopped paying Kathy years ago, but that didn’t matter. Mrs. Tierney called Kathy her hair princess. It felt good to be someone’s princess.
Kathy blinked, trying to clear her vision. Kick her if she skipped any more lunches trying to squeeze in frantic clients.
The whirling colors had become a long tunnel with Peter’s flashing amber lights at its end. A near-death experience?
She sank to her knees still clutching her purse, backpack, and bag of toys. If the tow-truck driver discovered her cold stiff body, she hoped he’d find Peter a good home.
And as the whirling colors took her, Peter spoke.
“Hasta la vista, baby!”
Arnold Schwarzenegger? Big bad voice for cute little toy? Poor marketing decision. No wonder good old Peter was left warming the shelf. What parent would want their kid to have a two foot high tin Terminator?
“Ye must prove yer worthiness, Ian. ‘Tis the only fair way. What say ye, Neil?”
Kathy winced. Talking about big bad voices… The tow truck driver? She knelt on the ground, still clutching her things.
“Aye. Ye’re the eldest, Ian, but that doesna mean ye’re the best. Neil Ross has satisfied many a lass.”
Well, cheers for Neil Ross. At least satisfied customers meant they knew which end of her car to hook up to.
Letting everything slide from her grasp, Kathy held her head. Maybe if it would stop spinning she’d make a stab at opening her eyes.
“Ye must let us choose, Ian, if ’tis to be a true test. Do ye agree, Colin?”
What? What test? All they had to do was hook her car up and tow it to Mel’s where for the nominal fee of her firstborn child she could get it back in running order.
“Aye. We will find one wi’ a heart that canna be touched.”
Yep, that was Mel. Cash or credit card. No personal checks. Against her better judgment, she opened her eyes. She blinked.
Uh-oh. No busy highway, no sexy car. No city. Only stark green hills and a small stream coated in morning mist. Morning? What had happened to the night? And silence. A silence so intense it terrified her.
Had she passed out? No, she’d fainted once when old PMS had decided that aromatherapy would loosen her up. He’d said the scent was discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb. She believed him. It smelled like Essense of Mummy. Anyway, she didn’t remember having any strange hallucinations then. She pulled her wool coat tightly around her, warding off the chill, the unspeakable fear tapping on her shoulder.
“I dinna know where we might find such a cold creature, Colin.”
Here. Here. She’d never felt so cold in her life, and the brisk wind numbing her ears had nothing to do with it. Still on her knees, she turned toward the welcome human voice. “Please, you’ve got to…” She stared.
Two male behinds stared back at her. Bare behinds. A “Playgirl” chorus line. She resisted the urge to rub her eyes. Two guys mooning her wouldn’t be that strange in New York… New York? Where in New York?
“Mayhap we will find one in England, Neil. English lasses can freeze a man’s…”
England? Suddenly, she realized what they wore. Wool thingees, belted at the waist, didn’t quite reach their knees, and from what she could see, boxers or briefs would never be a burning issue with these guys.
Kilts? She had to be dreaming. Nothing else made sense. Okay, dreams were symbolic, so she’d just figure this baby out. The empty landscape probably meant she needed some inner peace and tranquillity, an escape from the frenzy her life had become. The bare buns? Easy. She thought of her ex as a butt-head on a daily basis, so here he was in duplicate.
The rocks she knelt on dug into her knees through her long skirt, and she shifted uncomfortably. Funny, but she couldn’t remember feeling anything physical in dreams before.
“Aye, Colin. But even though an English lass may have a cold nature, it matters not to a Ross. ‘Tis hot enough she’ll be in bed wi’…”
She shivered as the chill wind whipped around her and lifted the kilts higher on the men leaning over… Wait a minute. There was another man sitting on the ground, his back braced against a large boulder.
“Ye have reason to fear us, Ian. We will beat ye and take what we want.”
Beat? Ohmigod, a mugging. At last, something familiar. She couldn’t see enough of the man on the ground to know how badly he was injured, but she knew she had to do something to save him and probably herself, because any second now they were bound to notice her.
Her logical self reminded her this was a dream, so she didn’t have to do anything.
Her logical self could take a hike. She needed a weapon.
Reaching inside her purse, she fumbled around for something she could use. Nothing. No handy little gun, no pepper spray. Rats.
Her can of mousse? Right. That would certainly scare the pants off… Okay, no pants to worry about. Maybe if she wrapped both hands around the can she could bluff them into believing she had a can of Mace. She drew in a deep breath. She had to go for it.
Pulling the mousse from her purse, she shook it, then climbed shakily to her feet. Her whole world seemed out of kilter, but she could only focus on one thing right now, saving the man on the ground.
She tried to clear her throat, but her voice still came out in a wavery croak. “Get lost, scumbags, before I Mace you. The cops are on their way.”
As one, the two men straightened then swung to face her. She gulped. Large. Very large. And hairy. With dry split ends that would challenge even her expertise.
“A lass.” Translation: yum-yum.
Her heart pounded madly. The Three Little Pigs would’ve been laying bricks like crazy at the sound of that voice.
They moved toward her. Forget trying to hit them in the eyes. They were too tall. While she was jumping into the air trying to get one in the eyes, the other would tear her apart. She needed a lower target.
The wind whipped and swirled, lifting their kilts high enough to offer a more assessable body part. Without hesitation, she moussed each of their Love Guns with a defiant squirt. Hey, one patch of voluminous and shiny body hair was better than none.
Kathy did a mental head-slap. Dumb habit. She bet no one else thought in smart-mouthed one liners when they were scared or nervous. And this was life and death stuff. Time to run like hell. But where?
Staring down in horror at the fluffy globs of mousse sticking to them, the men stumbled away from her.
Strange. Against all reason, Kathy had the feeling neither of them knew the mousse was harmless. Well, she recognized an advantage when she saw one. “Hmm. I wonder if they’ll fall off now or later.”
With wild bellows, the kilted giants turned and fled.
She watched them disappear as she let the mousse slip from her fingers.
The man on the ground. But by the time she turned back to him, the mist had closed in. A flowing sea of gray created shifting shapes of fear, twining like skeletal fingers around dark silhouettes of trees and shrubs. Kathy could almost believe it was alive—feel it breathing, waiting.
She swallowed past throat muscles that refused to work, fighting the terror of knowing she was the only person on earth.
“Come to me.”
His voice. She could taste it. Hot chocolate, smooth brandy, and sex. She recognized it. All the forbidden things Mom had warned her against—going out in public without panties, talking to strangers who tempted you with pictures you’d never forget, touching yourself in the darkness of your room while you imagined unimaginable acts.
Crazy thoughts. Whatever this was, it was affecting her mental balance.
“Are you okay?” Her words echoed in the cold gray void, while her mind promised she’d never be okay again. She stumbled in the general direction of his voice.
Just as she was losing her battle with hysteria, she saw him.
He sat, relaxed against the boulder, one leg bent at the knee, his head turned from her as if watching something only he could see.
Then, he looked at her. And as much as she wanted to forget the rest of the dream, this moment she’d remember. Always.
“Ye must need me badly, lass.” His husky murmur warmed the damp chill of the mist, made her remember needs she’d vowed not to think of again.
His face was harsh beauty and raw sensuality. Half-hidden by a wild tangle of dark wind-blown hair, his eyes held secrets, his smile pure sin.
“Yer heart is cold and alone. Ye must think of all things warm, all that would make yer heart pound, all the feelings and scents that have brought ye pleasure. Live them now to bring ye peace.”
“No.” She rubbed her eyes with a shaking hand. Come to me. The image. A hot summer night. This man and her. Their naked bodies, sweat-sheened skin, and stark white cotton sheets tangled at the foot of the brass bed. Her bed. And the scent of honeysuckle drifting in the open window, moving the sheer curtains in a lazy rhythm. She could see the heat, touch the scent, taste the passion.
“I…I have to get back to my car.” She’d never been so frightened in her life. Where had the image come from? The last time she’d smelled honeysuckle had been on Grandpa’s farm when she’d been about sixteen. And…the other things. They weren’t connected to her life with Peter and his Love Gun. And they’d felt…real. Too real.
Wake up. “I don’t understand. Where…? How…?” Her trembling legs couldn’t support her as she sank to her knees in front of him. “Why honeysuckle, the brass bed?”
“Whate’er yer thoughts, they brought ye pleasure for the moment. Hold them tightly to ye.” Effortlessly, he reached out and pulled her onto his lap. “Let me warm ye.”
“Have you seen New York around here anywhere? I…” She was ice flung into his flame. The helpless melting, the absorption, the sizzle and spark, the steam as the two met. She felt him, through her heavy coat, through the rough wool of his clothing. Sinew, muscle. His sharp exhalation hot against the side of her neck, his heat touching her everywhere.
“This isn’t a dream, is it?” The intensity of a dream like this would’ve brought her to sweating, shaking, heart-pounding awareness. Then what was happening? “Are you familiar with out-of-body experiences?”
“Out of body?” He wiped a tear from her cheek with his finger.
Crying? When had she started crying? She sniffed. She wouldn’t resort to tears. Old PMS had taught her that criers were losers.
“‘Twould be passing strange to want to be out of yer body when ye’re wi’ a bonny lass. ‘Tis the body that makes it so wondrous.”
What about the heart? What about love? “Sure. Stupid comment.” Who was she to dis the senses when they seemed to be the only things working right now?
Reaching down, she braced herself against his hip, fixed her attention on the checked pattern of the cloth. Her legs were wedged between his thighs, but she had no strength to move, could barely concentrate… “All of you are wearing kilts. Just what New York needs, another street gang. Guess you don’t need guns and knives. You just moon anyone you don’t like. I bet grossed-out enemies keel over by the hundreds at the fanny display put on by those two I chased away.”
She felt his deep exhalation. “‘Tis the cold making you blather so.”
“Right.” She didn’t even make sense to herself. Not a dream? Then what?
When she finally managed to lift her gaze, she looked into eyes as gray as the mist surrounding them. A midnight tangle of hair framed a face meant for a dark god or fallen angel. And something so explosive it took her breath away passed between them.
She’d imagined it. Nothing explosive had ever passed between a man and her. After her failed marriage, that’s the way she liked it, that’s the way she meant to keep it.
“Are ye feeling a wee bit better?”
“No.” Too much. Her confused thoughts made no sense of what she saw, felt. And so she focused on just one thing. His hair. She reached out with fingers as icy as the dread building in her soul, then slid her hand the length of his hair, past his shoulders to where dark strands spread across his chest.
Fascinated, she watched the rapid rise and fall of his broad chest, a rise and fall matching the beat of her own heart.
With all her questions fighting for supremacy, she could only force one comment through her lips. “You have virgin hair.”
“I dinna think so. I havena had any virgin parts for a verra long time.”
She felt his deep chuckle shudder through her and raised her gaze once again to his face. The white flash of his wicked smile fixated her attention on his lips. A full lower lip, sensual, but somehow not softening the hard angles of jaw and cheekbones.
His gaze slid the length of her body, and it was as real as though he’d touched her with his fingers, his mouth.
A dangerous man. Perhaps the two she’d chased away were the ones who’d needed saving.
His smile turned wolfish. “Ye wouldna enjoy a man who hadna lain wi’ a lass.”
Panic clattered around in her mind, frantically trying to get her attention. It finally succeeded. She tried to push away from him, but he simply closed his thighs on her legs and she might as well have been shackled in iron.
Even as she raised her fists to pound whatever part of him became available first, she sensed the uselessness. He wrapped his arms around her and held her still.
“Dinna be so quick to run.” His breath fanned against her cheek, heating her senses, her anger. “Ye must have been fair desperate to gain my advice. I’ve ne’er seen Colin and Neil bested before. But ye took unfair advantage of their fear for their manhoods. ‘Twasn’t needed. I would have asked my brothers to speak wi’ me later.” He drew his finger along the line of her clenched jaw.
“Your brothers?” Jerking her head from his touch, she looked frantically around for help. She’d kill for the sight of a golden arch or even a New York cabby offering her a friendly finger signal because she’d cut him off. “Those two are your brothers?”
“Aye. We were born together, still we dinna resemble each other overmuch.”
“Born together…? Oh, triplets.” Hard to believe. The other two were lumbering bears, while this man…this man was a dark jungle predator.
Where was she? Had she taken a wrong turn in Central Park and landed in Oz?
“Even though we were born together, I came first. They dinna want to accept me as the eldest.”
“Hey, I feel for them. Who came out first is important.” Horse pooky. She had really important things to worry about.
She drew in a deep breath to hold her panic in check. He hadn’t hurt her, and already his faded red plaid was growing sort of familiar. No. She couldn’t let anything in this nowhere land get familiar.
She shivered as the mist’s damp fingers touched her with an unspoken promise that nothing in her life would ever be the same again.
Some women might still think they were dreaming. Not her. She recognized dreams. She’d certainly had enough nightmares after the collapse of her marriage. This wasn’t a dream.
Then what? Amnesia? Could she have lost her memory, wandered to a different place?
Stop shaking. You’re New York tough. New Yorkers are survivors. This time when she pushed at him, he let her go. Scrambling away from the man on the ground, she reached her purse and yanked out her cell phone.
Breathlessly, she pushed 911 then waited until a male voice answered.
“Please, I need help.” Her teeth chattered. Cold or fear? Probably both. “My name is Kathy Bartlett and I—”
The voice interrupted.
“No, I’m not hurt. I don’t know about the imminent danger part. I’m—“
“Where am I? Somewhere in Braveheart, I think.”
The voice wasn’t amused.
“Okay, okay, I’m…” She turned to the man who still sat leaning against the rock. “Where am I?”
He wasn’t smiling. A frown creased his forehead as he stared at her phone. “Ye’re betwixt Cromarty and Dornoch Firths.”
“Firth? What the heck is a firth? Firth doesn’t sound like a New York name.” He didn’t sound like a New York man. She fought to control the nauseous fear trembling in the pit of her stomach and faithfully repeated what he’d said.
“What do you mean there’re no streets with those names? Sure there are. I bet you could find dozens of Cromarty and Dornoch Streets. I bet there’re two named after Dominic Cromarty and Christine Dornoch.”
The voice had no sense of humor.
“Fine, so I’m not hurt, so I’m not in imminent danger, but… Why do I have to call my local authorities?” She glared at the man on the ground, then glared at her cell phone.
“Emergencies? You think this isn’t an emergency? You’d better…” Damn! He’d hung up. Carefully, she returned the phone to her purse, afraid she’d drop it from her shaking fingers. Save the power until you figure out who to call.
She was in deep doo-doo, but she’d calmly and logically reason things out. Hah! She was so scared that any minute the fright fairy would swoop down and crown her Queen of Queasy Stomachs.
She turned back to the man, then gasped when she found he now stood beside her. Sitting, he’d looked formidable. Standing, he was downright intimidating. Towering above her with shoulders broad enough to block out the sun, if there’d been a sun, and dressed in clothing that looked way too authentic for Kathy’s taste, he practically oozed raw primitive power.
She wanted to step back. Step back, turn and run for her life. But where? And she didn’t doubt he’d catch her before she’d taken five steps. Clenching her shaking hands into fists, she glared at him. “Don’t touch me or I’ll—”
“Or ye’ll what, lass?” He smiled. “Cover my manhood wi’ a potion that will deny the pleasure of a woman’s body to me forever?” He walked over and picked up her can of mousse. Handling it carefully, he returned it to her.
Without comment, she put it in her purse.
“Be ye a witch?” He didn’t smile when he asked.
An incredible explanation was jumping up and down just outside the door to her thoughts, shouting to get her attention. She couldn’t make it go away, but she didn’t have to answer the door.
Just stick with the facts. Two hulking giants run screaming from mousse attack. General landscape in no way resembles Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Conclusion. Primitive area inhabited by big scary primitive men. Hmm.
Think. If she was in a primitive area, then she’d better squash this witch thing. Being burned at the stake was not on her list of fun things to do on a Saturday night. No, she definitely couldn’t be a witch. “I’m…I’m a princess. That’s right, I’m a princess, and I’m lost.”
“A princess?” He looked puzzled.
She relaxed slightly. He didn’t seem so threatening when he was puzzled. “Yes, I’m…the hair princess.”
“Hare?” A smile once again tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Ye rule a kingdom of rabbits?”
If she wasn’t so confused, so terrified, she might have laughed, but who could laugh with their teeth chattering and their mind racing for an explanation. Any explanation. “No, hair.” She reached up and fingered a strand of his incredible hair, then jerked her hand back at the instant connection. “I’m Kathy, the Princess of Hair.” A coma? Did people hallucinate when they were in a coma? “And I need to get back to New York.”
He frowned. “I’ve ne’er heard of this New York.”
Oh, God, please. “The United States?”
He shook his head, and her gaze involuntarily followed the way his hair shifted like heavy silk across his shoulders. “I dinna know these places. Who is the king of yer land?”
The explanation, so fantastic, so impossible, was now pounding on the door, tapping at windows. “Uh…Clairol. My father, King Clairol, rules our kingdom.”
He exhaled sharply, and his breath misted against her cheek—warm, compelling. “Yer father would do well to keep his daughter safe beside him. ‘Tis a dangerous land ye’ve come to.”
New York or wherever, men’s attitudes didn’t change. She took a mini-break from mental handwringing to strike a blow for women everywhere. “Women can take care of themselves. I can take care of myself.” Right.
His gaze turned thoughtful, assessing. “Aye. I’ve seen proof of that. Henry would find ye amusing.”
“Henry?” She glanced around her again. Hills, grass, a small grove of trees, the smell of the sea. No, she’d never been here before.
“Surely even in yer kingdom ye’ve heard of King Henry.”
The explanation gave up on polite knocking and tapping. With a roar of frustration, it kicked down her door, then stood with hands on hips, confronting her with its horrific possibility, its realness. “What…year is it?” Strange, but her lips felt frozen, unwilling to form the question.
“The year of our Lord, fifteen hundred forty-two.” His answer seemed distracted, his gaze suddenly fixed on something behind her.
She squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would keep her mind, her soul, from shattering into a million mini-shards of panic. No! How? Why? No, she wouldn’t accept his words. Time travel was impossible.
Please let her open her eyes and find herself back on the side of the highway, smelling the wonderful smells of home—exhaust fumes and factory pollution. She’d never, never, never complain again about overbooking, clients who wanted green hair like the Grinch, or sexy cars that broke down.
She opened her eyes. Nothing had changed. Feeling suddenly disconnected from the strangeness around her—probably a defense mechanism by her mind to keep its sanity—she turned to see what her companion found so interesting.
A large cat sat watching them. Mostly white, it had red on its head and tail. Auburn. Denise Lane, third Thursday of every month. Kathy had told her all women deserved to be redheads at least once in their lives.
The man moved up beside her, and they watched silently as the cat stood, then hobbled toward them.
“That cat only has three legs.” She was switching into automatic poor-kitty mode when the man put his hand on her arm. She drew in her breath at the contact.
“‘Tis Malin. Ye must pretend ye dinna notice. He willna accept yer pity.” He bent down and ran his hand the length of the cat’s back. The cat sat down regally at the man’s side, disdaining to glance her way.
“Aye. The name means wee strong warrior. ‘Tis a fitting name.”
Kathy lifted her gaze to the man’s face. There was dark intensity in his stare and an unnamed emotion that seemed to ripple between them, pulling her into its undertow even as she fought it.
Nope, she wouldn’t get sidetracked, because she had really important issues to think about like… Even though I really, really don’t believe in time travel, well, if I have time traveled—and of course I don’t believe I have—please, someone send me home.
“Run this King Henry and 1542 stuff past me again. Slowly.” She wet her lips nervously as he watched her with unwavering gray eyes. “Oh, and have you spoken with your shrink lately, maybe missed your medication?”
If only it were that simple. But what about the two kilted brothers she’d terrified with a can of mousse? What about their Scottish burr, and what about the primitive untouched land around her? What about if you have a screaming fit of hysterics?
It was as though she hadn’t spoken. Without comment, he grabbed her hand, scooped up her bag of toys, purse, and backpack, then started dragging her away.
Bag of toys, purse, backpack. Something important. Remember. “Whoa. You can’t just pull me along behind you. That’s…kidnapping, a criminal offense. Besides, I don’t go off with strange men.” She jerked ineffectually at his grasp.
Pausing, he looked back at her. “If ye’re truly lost, then all men would be strange to ye.”
True. “Yeah, but some men are stranger than others.”
He finally seemed to relax. The beginning of a smile crinkled the corners of his eyes and turned up the corners of that incredible mouth. “Ye dinna understand, lass. Ye have no choice in the matter. Ye’re coming wi’ me.” He shrugged, and even through the plaid thrown across his shoulders, she could see the ripple of muscles. “Besides, where else would ye go?”
Stark raving mad? No, she thought she’d already taken that trip.
He must’ve taken her silence for assent, because he resumed dragging her away.
“Wait. You forgot Malin. Aren’t you going to carry him?” She glanced at the cat, who stared malevolently back at her. Definitely not carry-on luggage.
“Malin is a warrior. Ye dinna carry a warrior. He would be insulted.” The man continued walking.
God forbid she insult Malin. “Peter. We can’t leave Peter here.”
Peter. Now she realized what had bothered her when he’d picked up her other things. She’d been holding the bag, backpack, and purse when it happened. She hadn’t been holding Peter. So why was Peter here? Why not her sexy red car with the balloon payment due in two months? Two months. Which reminded her, if she didn’t show up in court on February 14, her slimy cheating ex-husband would win his stupid mental anguish case.
Once again the man paused. He cast her a long-suffering look. “Peter?”
“He’s one of my toys. I have to get him.” She pointed.
He narrowed his gaze on the shiny metal hourglass waiting placidly beside a large bush. “‘Tis passing strange.”
Inexplicably, she felt the need to defend Peter. “You have no room to talk, buster.”
He led her back to the toy, and when he would’ve picked Peter up, she rushed to grab her toy first. Clutching the shiny body, she smoothed her fingers over his two amber lights. She felt a rush of affection for the metal misfit, and yes, a sense of comfort in holding him. He was one of her last contacts with a life that seemed to be fading even as she stood clasping him.
Fear drove her into speech. So long as she could talk, she might stave off the bout of frenzied tears gathering at the back of her throat. “Who…who are you, and how did you do that thing with the honeysuckle and brass bed?”
“Ian Ross.” He started walking again, obviously assuming she’d follow him. “And I did naught but urge ye to find the things ye treasured so ye might weave them into yer desire.”
He assumed wrong. “That wasn’t my desire.”
She sensed his smile. “Ye dinna wish it to be yer desire.”
“Okay, forget the desire thing. Who are you really?”
For what she sensed was the last time, he paused and turned toward her. Moving close, he invaded her space, and Kathy felt like she’d wandered into a sensual magnetic field. He slid his fingers along her jaw, down the side of her neck, then lowering his head, he brushed her lips with his.
Searing heat and a need so strong it made every inch of her body clench held her rooted to the spot even as her mind screamed for her to run. Close. So close his eyes seemed silver rather than gray, his lashes dark smudges against his beard-shadowed skin. So close she inhaled the scent of mist, hot male, and danger.
She stumbled away from him. There was something about his closeness that—
“If Ian Ross be not enough for ye, mayhap ye need know what others call me.” He followed her retreat until she was backed against a large boulder.
His size, pure maleness, and her unexplained reaction to him left her breathing hard, her breaths emerging as white puffs into the cold mist.
Grasping her chin, he gently raised her head till she was forced to meet his dark gaze. “Know me, Kathy, Princess of Hair.” His smile ignited a flame that burned away her chill, that sent liquid fire through every vein.
“I am the Pleasure Master.”